If the Seattle Mariners are ever going to win a World Championship, theyll do it with players like Carlos Peguero. Not the Peguero you see on the field now–the guess-hitting, defensive liability–but the Peguero of seasons future.
Carlos Peguero has a baseball skill: Power. Or, as Eric Wedge puts it, Peguero is a high-damage hitter. Even if you just started watching the Ms this season, you know just how rare that ability is. Peguero lacks many other baseball skills, like bat control, pitch recognition, knowledge of the strike zone, the ability to tell where a fly ball is going–and so Peguero is not destined for a Hall-of-Fame career. At best, the Mariners can hope for two or three decent seasons out of him.
Steve Balboni, age 25, 1982: .187 BA, 2 HR, 34 K, 6 BB in 114 plate appearances.
Carlos Peguero, age 24, 2011: .194 BA, 6 HR, 48 K, 7 BB in 145 plate appearances.
Peguero could be as good as Steve Balboni some day. If youre underwhelmed, I dont blame you. But consider this: The Kansas City Royals won a World Series with Balboni at first base.
(Balboni was not a good baseball player–and was even overrated in his time. This is almost impossible to believe, and it shows how far our evaluation of baseball players has come, but in 1984, Balboni received 5 points in MVP balloting, despite being a 1B who OPSed .817. His WAR was just 1.8. Cal Ripken Jr., playing SS, OPSed .884. Ripkens WAR was 9.2, leading the American League. Yet Ripken got just a single, 20th place vote in the MVP balloting. Its as if a Ford Escort was voted best car of 1984 over the Porche 944. But I digress.)
Small-market teams like the Mariners need young, cheap players to provide power, just like Balboni did for the 1985 Royals. Its nearly impossible to put together a good offense when you rely on retreads for power, as the Mariners have since Edgar Martinezs retirement. Its a massive risk of resources.
Yet the Mariners have done it anyway, again and again acquiring power hitters on the downslope of their careers. Jack Cust and Milton Bradley being only the most recent examples. Russell Branyan. Richie Sexson. Paul Sorrento. Pete OBrien. Gorman Thomas. Willie Horton. And … Steve Balboni, who hit 21 homers in 97 games with the 88 Mariners.
Peguero is a bad hitter right now, but he’s got a chance to be an above-average hitter in two or three years if the M’s stick with him. Balboni had about three good years with the Royals before his bat slowed down (at which point, of course, the Mariners traded for him).
I can think of one mediocre hitter the Mariners held onto just long enough for him to make a contribution to a pennant-winning team: Current broadcaster Mike Blowers.
Mike Blowers, age 27, 1992: .192 BA, 1 HR, 20 K, 6 BB in 80 plate appearances.
Not an inspiring line, especially for a 27-year-old. But the Ms let Blowers work through his troubles, and in 1995 he delivered 23 HR and 95 RBI, in a year when the Mariners needed every run they could to force a one-game A.L. West playoff. For once the Mariners offloaded a player in his prime, trading Blowers to the Dodgers in the offseason for two prospects, one of whom (Miguel Cairo) is still a productive major leaguer–though he never played for the Ms.
Of course, watching Peguero struggle at the major league level aint fun. He now has seven strikeouts in his last nine plate appearances. But the Mariners seem to think that his development will be accelerated by facing major league pitching.
With more at bats the consistency he has up there, the discipline is going to come, Wedge says. “There is no other way you can get what you need to get in regard to big-league pitching.
If the Ms are wrong, they are giving away at bats that could help the Mariners stay in the 2011 A.L. West race. But if they are right, they are sowing the seeds for a 2013 World Series Championship.